This week’s Old Testament passage is Deuteronomy 30:15-20. It lays out before the people of Israel a very simple choice. They can love the LORD, allowing their actions and attitudes to be in accord with His Word, or they can allow their heart to turn away. This is a choice which the passage describes as life and death, a choice of being blessed or cursed. God’s clear stated desire is that the people of Israel should “choose life” (v. 19, NKJV).
This Scripture is often misunderstood in modern American preaching and teaching. A brief corrective is appropriate.
First, some teach that this passage calls people to “decide for Jesus.” The text tells people in verse 16 what God commands the people. However, this passage does not urge anyone to make the kind of decision for Jesus which is often demanded in many church congregations. Put quite simply, this is addressed to the chosen people of God, Israel. All of the people of Israel are, by their birthright, already partakers of the covenant promises of God. They are not asked to opt in. There is nothing contradictory about reminding the people who are already God’s people of their identity and of the importance of remaining faithful to God’s covenants. That is exactly what is really happening here.
Second, some teach that the people in the passage who turn away (v. 17) were not believers in the first place. Yet it is impossible for someone who is not a member of a family to depart from the family. It is impossible for someone who is not a partaker of a covenant to depart from the covenant. Rather, this passage asserts that the people of Israel, God’s covenant people, have a tendency to depart from taking His Word seriously. Therefore they need to be reminded of their identity.
What is the passage teaching? It reminds us that we who are God’s people are obligated to cultivate our attitude of faith toward him. We need to take God’s Word seriously and hold to the great promises he has given. This is how God’s inheritance is delivered.
From the very beginning of the Christian period, Christians have taught that the covenant of God is delivered to all nations through Jesus, identified as God the Son. By trusting that he is the one who has fulfilled God’s law perfectly and on our behalf, we are partakers of all the promises of God. Salvation is a matter of God’s promise, not of our obedience. Our obedience is rightly seen as a response to God’s love for us. It is likewise a sign that we are loving the Lord (v. 16).
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